Tuesday, December 09, 2014

More on land-grabbing again

In 1885, the great European powers met in Berlin to divide up the African continent into spheres of influence. There was a similar conference last week, in New York, but you did not read about it and it was held behind the closed doors of a corporate board room. And, the week before there was a similar conference in Amsterdam, and the week before that in London. Colonialism today is no longer conducted by nation-states but, instead, by multi-national corporations but the essence of the saga is unchanged: A poor continent is being raped by the powerful and wealthy.

Ghana has been a net importer of palm oil, which is like Saudi Arabia being a net importer of oil. Herakles Farms, a New York-based firm had come into the Volta region of Ghana region and did what land-grabbers do: They promised a lot of money, some of it up front, they promised they would drill wells for the people, build schools and clinics and roads, improve the standard of living, if only the farmers would sign a 99-year lease at $5 per hectare per year. A hectare is about two and one-half acres. Many Western companies initially put enormous pressure on local landowners to sign lease agreements without legal counsel or, in the case with Herakles Farms, the company “provided” the locals with a lawyer who happened to work at the same firm as the lawyer representing the company. Of course, the people of the Volta region did not get what they were promised. And, Herakles Farms, once they realized that the intrepid social justice advocates from Africa Faith & Justice Network were on the case and who had tangled previously with the company in neighboring Cameroon  sold the lease to a British company, Volta Red, which has set up a mill to process palm oil.

The land-grab problem is not unique to Ghana. In Liberia, 64% of usable land is held by foreign corporations. 64%. In Tanzania, forty thousand people are being evicted from land they have lived on for all their lives because the royal family of Dubai bought the land to set up a private game preserve. This will devastate the nomadic peoples in the region, placing the grazing lands they and their ancestors have used for centuries behind the walls of the preserve. Similar tales can be told about most of the countries in Africa.

In the 19th century the European powers were only taking resources. Now, more people are dividing Africa up, all motivated by greed, and they are taking the land. It is much worse now than before.

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